Walk On the Wild Side

In Georgia, UNDP helps develop sustainable solutions for state forest management

February 28, 2022

Photo: Nino Zedginidze/UNDP

After having lived through two years of the pandemic, it’s hard to think about anything without feeling overwhelmed by the disruption, loss and ubiquitous uncertainty the pandemic has caused.

But take a deep breath. This, too, will pass. And there is something you can do to stay healthy and sane: go for a really, really long walk in a forest.

The Borjomi Municipality in south Georgia is a perfect place to do so. It’s blissful to wander through its low valleys carpeted with a mix of chestnut, beech and hornbeam trees or walk through the evergreen understorey, passing broad rhododendrons, cherry laurel bushes. At 1400m, you step into mixed coniferous-broad-leafed forest groves, which are particularly picturesque in Autumn. Those who hike up over 1800m enjoy lush subalpine meadows with their colourful variety of flowers and tall grasses. In short, the further you walk, the better it gets.

At UNDP, we know that first-hand. We don’t just like diving into the serene beauty of Borjomi forests; we like helping to protect their unique and fragile biodiversity.

UNDP promotes the concept of green tourism through our global programme for biodiversity financing (BIOFIN) in Borjomi and many other Georgian municipalities. In partnership with the National Forestry Agency, we work with local authorities and communities to design ecotourism development plans, one of which is currently being implemented in Borjomi municipality’s state forests.

Prospects for sustainable and nature-based tourism are very promising, as this type of leisure is gaining in popularity. To meet this increasing demand, the National Forestry Agency designated sixteen remarkable locations and raised funds to develop infrastructure and services around the most scenic and popular routes.

These locations boast rich biodiversity, stunning landscapes and cultural and historical sites. However, decades of illegal logging and poor management have put this amazing natural ecosystem under threat.

The UNDP BIOFIN programme offers municipalities a new vision of forest management, combining environmental protection with economic benefits and creating new income opportunities for local communities. This includes the development of ecotourism infrastructure and services, such as ziplines, rope bridges, camping areas, climbing routes and viewpoints, regulation of existing tourism activities and support for biodiversity protection.

With BIOFIN support, “there is a whole new infrastructure being installed around the area with a purpose to promote and support ecotourism,” says Koba Silagadze, one of the rangers working at the National Forestry Agency. He lists some of the amenities: a camping and picnic area at the Borjomi Plateau and glacial lakes in Dabadzveli village, a 400 meters long zip-line that will fly over the main gorge, and tourist infrastructure around Timotesubani caves.

According to Nino Antadze, UNDP’s Environment and Energy Team Leader in Georgia, “the concept of ecotourism helps people and governments understand why protecting nature is important and shows economic and social gains of biodiversity investments.”

Natia Lordanishvili, Deputy Director of Georgia’s National Forestry Agency, sees systemic development of ecotourism as “the first step taken towards the introduction of multi-purpose forest use in Georgia.”

This is the exact intent of UNDP’s BIOFIN programme, which aims to direct additional finance towards biodiversity needs. Georgia was one of the first countries to join BIOFIN in 2016. By 2019, state budget allocations for the Forest and Biodiversity Department increased from GEL100,000 to GEL400,000 annually. In total, biodiversity-related annual state budget allocations have increased up to GEL620,000. UNDP efforts extend beyond financing support; with BIOFIN support, Georgia has adopted the first-ever specific biodiversity-related guidelines for conducting environmental impact assessments.

Other municipalities are successfully replicating Borjomi forests’ local ecotourism development model. In Georgia, which has many unique features and beauty to protect and enjoy, ecotourism prospects are virtually unlimited.

Join us for a walk in the wilderness and find out yourself!